TGI Friday’s, 10/12/2009

The most important part of the T.G.I. Friday’s experience is the bartending culture. Bartenders are trained to juggle bottles like Tom Cruise in Cocktail. There is a sense of time suspension when the bartenders run a routine. By suspending time, T.G.I. Friday’s guarantees you, the customer, will prolong your stay and order more snacks, meals and drinks. By promising laughs at the expense of staff, T.G.I. Friday’s delivers on its corporate promise to tickle your Friday funny bone regardless of the day of week. To induce a sense of timelessness, staff are required to wear the red and white striped prisoner uniform which is part of T.G.I. Friday’s signature experiential gimmick (and a tawdry rip-off of Edwardian soda shop sensibilities).

Another part of the experiential gimmick is the language T.G.I. Friday’s uses to describe itself. The company lures young employees in with jangly jargon. “Got the spark? The smile? Come on in. It’s more than a favorite day of the week. More than a place to eat and meet. It’s a state of mind. Fun, excitement and great times! They can all be yours here every day, including Friday.” Fragments and abstract verbs appeal to young minds while the deliberately choppy grammar slips, mimicking everyday speech. The goal is to seduce potential employees into thinking the job will actually be less of a job and more of a party. But underneath the easy-going copywriting are the coded phrases of corporate America:

“An attitude of serious showmanship and an interest in keeping it light fuels us with energy and drive. It’s a culture credited with naming happy hour, ‘happy hour,’ and inventing Long Island Iced Teas and Loaded Potato Skins. For real.”

Energy, Drive, Showmanship. These are the terms of many a job description.

There seems to be a correlation between how demeaning and low-paid a job is and how over-inflated and jazzercised the description. Look under the Job Search tab and you’ll see: “Job? Whatever. More like an opportunity to rock.”

Yeah, right.

T.G.I. Friday’s is a business revolving around serving an experience. It’s a contemporary Schlaraffenland where all the servants are slap-happy to serve you. Without the exuberant staff, T.G.I. Friday’s is merely a dressed-up corporate burger joint: recycled ketchup bottles and ammonia-rinsed beef. It’s worth pointing out that nearly every T.G.I. Friday’s in the Pacific Northwest region (and many across our fine nation) has closed due to alleged mismanagement over the past year.

As could be expected for a minimum wage job, the application is formulaic: hours available, have you been fired or convicted of crime, do you have any education, please list your previous employers.

In compensation for synchronized juggling of liquor bottles, exuberant customer service, and the occasional ketchup-on-prison-shirt accident, the franchise does provide some benefits for full-time staff such as healthcare, life insurance, 401(k), tuition reimbursement and more – including some benefits that aren’t really benefits like direct deposit and something called “work-life balance.” Certainly for some sound minded extroverts serving or bartending through T.G.I. Friday’s obsessive party experience agenda makes for a great employment.

Part of the description for Bartending at T.G.I. Friday’s is this: “Makes guests feel welcome and is attentive to them at all times. Totally great.” The bartending performance is a big part of the appeal to patrons of T.G.I. Friday’s. The company puts such pressure on the entertainment aspect that they even made an international bartending competition. The current world champion is Keisuke Goto whose trademark move is juggling shaker, bottle, and the hat off his head.

Maybe after a year of bartending at T.G.I. Friday’s a person could move to Amsterdam and take up busking. It’s understood that Rembrandtplein allows rotation of busking shifts and, frankly, any juggler will beat the pants off any stinky ol’ didgeridoo player.

With approximately 75 staff members at each location, T.G.I. Friday’s had the potential to employ thousands and thousands of talented individuals. Now that the franchise has seen some hard times and wide-spread closures, perhaps fabricating an experiential gimmick can become an antiquated ideal that future companies will avoid. (JMM)

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